Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Uses of a (Max) Boot

Please excuse the earthiness of this visceral reaction . . . but I've long thought that Max Boot was an exact homonym for what someone ought long ago to have implanted (intellectually speaking, of course) up the hind quarters of the so-called foreign-policy expert of that name.

Max Boot's essay in this morning's LA Times can only be described as a kind of last-gasp apologia for the neocon doctrine of US-imposed nation-building.  He now, though, goes so far as to resort to the image of a humiliated America, which departed Somalia after the Black Hawk Down debacle of almost two decades ago "tail between our legs," after which  "it has become a haven for terrorists and pirates. Now an Islamist movement modeled on the Taliban, known as the Shabab, threatens to take over the country. If this were to happen, it would replicate the disaster that struck Afghanistan in the 1990s — another example of what happens when the U.S. refuses to help build a viable state in a country desperately in need of one."

Oh, please.  Does Boot truly, truly believe that the US had either the military power or the unlimited economic resources it would have taken to create a reasonably modern, West-friendly, shiny Somali - or Afghan - nation had we simply chosen to stay there?  How can such a well-published "expert" - a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, no less! - have failed to learn the lesson of the debacle that is Iraq.  That, even in a country that had once possessed a relatively highly educated population and (until we did all we could to demolish it starting in 1991) infrastructure, as well as an organized (albeit brutal) political system -- that even with such a country to work with, the hubris of the Bush administration and its neocon cheerleaders (Max Boot among them)blinded the US to its utter inability to control and then nation-build Iraq into a shiny bright Western-democratic nation.  To build a nation, the builders have to understand the parts with which they need to do that building.  The US was clueless going in, as General Raymond Odierno had the guts to admit only last August:

In his four years here, General Odierno was often at the center of shifting American military strategy in Iraq. He said the military learned lessons “the hard way.”“We all came in very naïve about Iraq,” he said. “We came in naïve about what the problems were in Iraq; I don’t think we understood what I call the societal devastation that occurred,” he said, citing the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf war and the international sanctions from 1990 to 2003 that wiped out the middle class. “And then we attacked to overthrow the government,” he said. The same went for the country’s ethnic and sectarian divisions, he said: “We just didn’t understand it.” To advocates of the counterinsurgency strategy that General Odierno has, in part, come to symbolize, the learning curve might highlight the military’s adaptiveness. Critics of a conflict that killed an estimated 100,000 Iraqis, perhaps far more, and more than 4,400 American soldiers might see the acknowledgment as evidence of the war’s folly. Asked if the United States had made the country’s divisions worse, General Odierno said, “I don’t know.” “There’s all these issues that we didn’t understand and that we had to work our way through,” he said. “And did maybe that cause it to get worse? Maybe.

What does Max Boot say about Iraq?
If you want yet another example of how costly our aversion to nation-building has been, look no further than Iraq. The Bush administration associated nation-building with the hated policies of the Clinton administration and refused to prepare for it. The result was that Iraq fell apart after U.S. troops had toppled its existing regime.

Iraq is more stable now, but only because the Bush administration overcame its early reluctance to nation-build. After dithering far too long, Bush finally acted to improve the security situation and expand the capacity of Iraqis to govern themselves. Iraq continues to struggle because the state remains weak; nation-building is a time-consuming, costly endeavor. But it sure beats the alternative — i.e., the kind of nihilistic violence that was threatening to consume Iraq in 2006-07. . . .

If only we had gone in with more troops!  If only we had poured more billions of dollars into building Iraq!  If only we had committed to many more years there, to see the job through!  We surely would have succeeded in making Iraq strong, a cohesive nation, a vibrant democracy!  I would have been proved right! Vindication!  VICTORY!

Even on the brink of finishing its withdrawal from this country it tried so hard to help (or so we say), but did so much to destroy, the US leadership - and people like Max Boot - still have never been able to get their heads around how Iraq works, or around the fact that the US never - never - had the wherewithal to build a nation there, especially when the Iraqis themselves, since 1921, had never really succeeded.

Face it, Max.  It was because of the cheerleading and chest-thumping of you - and people who thought, and think, like you - that the US yee-hahhed itself into Iraq.  If you had any intellectual honesty or moral compass, you would freely and contritely admit that your hands are covered - saturated - in the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis, as well as the ruined, tortured lives of 4 million Iraqi refugees and exiles.  You helped set in motion what will likely be catastrophe-laden decades during which the remnants of whatever had been an Iraqi nation before the troops went in will struggle - and likely fail, via a slow, lingering death - to create a sense of common purpose and identity --  to build a nation.

Tell you what, Max.  It's time for the US policy establishment to give you the Boot.

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